We recently celebrated National Estate Planning Awareness Week during the week of October 19-25, 2020. Although it is nice to have an entire week each year devoted to raising awareness of the importance of estate planning, I would argue that 2020 has been National Estate Planning Awareness Year, as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the importance of estate planning to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Here at SSB we have had a busy year making sure our clients’ plans are up-to-date, and helping new clients put a plan in place so that they, too, can have the peace of mind an estate plan brings in these uncertain times.
As Estate Planning Attorneys, we know Estate planning is incredibly important and not just for the wealthy. Estate planning is something every adult should do. Estate planning can help you accomplish any number of goals, including appointing guardians for minor children, choosing a health care agent to make decisions for you should you become ill, appointing an agent to handle your financial and legal matters if you become incapacitated, minimizing taxes so you can pass more wealth on to your family members, and stating how and to whom you would like to receive your assets when you pass away.
While it should be at the top of everyone’s to-do list, estate planning can often feel overwhelming, and estate plan documents can sometimes seem to be written in their own language. Here are some important estate planning terms you should know as you think about your own estate plan.
Generally, anything a person owns, including a home and other real estate, bank accounts, life insurance, investments, retirement accounts (IRAs, 401ks), annuities, furniture, jewelry, art, clothing, and collectibles.
A person or entity (such as a charity) that is designated to receive assets from an estate, trust, account, or insurance policy.
A payment in cash or assets to a beneficiary who is entitled to receive it.
All assets and debts left by an individual at death.
A person with a legal obligation (duty) to act primarily for another person’s benefit, e.g., a trustee or agent under a power of attorney. “Fiduciary” implies great confidence and trust, and a high degree of good faith.
The process of transferring (re-titling) assets to a living trust (a trust created during the creator’s lifetime). A living trust will only avoid probate at the trust creator’s death with assets that are funded into the trust during the trust creator’s lifetime, or that will be automatically payable to the trust (i.e. by beneficiary designation) at the trust creator’s death.
Unable to manage one’s own affairs, either temporarily or permanently; often involves a lack of mental capacity.
The assets received from someone who has died.
Guardianship / Conservatorship
The court-supervised process of appointing a guardian / conservator to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated or incompetent person, including health care and financial decisions.
A deduction that may be taken on the federal and Massachusetts estate tax returns, it lets the first spouse to die leave an unlimited amount of assets to the surviving spouse free of estate taxes. However, if no other tax planning is used and the surviving spouse’s estate is more than the amount of the federal and/or state estate tax exemption in effect at the time of the surviving spouse’s death, estate taxes will be due at that time.
Settle an estate
The process of winding down the affairs of a deceased person, and includes identifying and valuing of assets, paying debts and taxes, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
A fiduciary relationship in which one party, known as the trust creator, settlor or grantor, gives another party, known as the trustee, the responsibility to hold property or assets for the benefit of another party, the beneficiary. The trust should be memorialized by a written trust agreement which specifies the trustee’s duties and powers, the trustee’s obligation to the beneficiary, and the beneficiary’s rights to income or principal from the trust.
A written document with instructions for disposing of probate assets after death. A Will can only be enforced through a probate court. A Will may also include the nomination of guardian for minor children.
If you have any additional questions about estate planning, or would like to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney about your own estate plan, please contact our office. We will be happy to assist you in creating a comprehensive plan that is tailored to your unique needs and goals, so that next year when National Estate Planning Week rolls around, you will have something to celebrate!
© 2020 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC